Going away to college is usually a dramatic transition from a highly controlled environment to an exponentially unrestricted way of life. While this may sound appealing to high school graduates looking to escape their parents’ rules, it could have an impact on pre-existing mental health problems for those who aren’t prepared to handle the drastic lifestyle change.
According to statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a quarter of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 are dealing with a psychiatric issue. In the last year, more than 25 percent of those specifically in college have been treated for or diagnosed with a mental ailment. Understanding and considering the factors that can trigger or worsen certain conditions in young people is important for both parents of soon-to-be freshmen and new students themselves.
How Can College Impact Mental Illness?
The stress of meeting academic expectations, facing possible social pressures around drinking, sex or drugs, and trying to manage expenses and personal health on their own may become a contributing factor to some students noticing a worsening of their mental health conditions. Based on the data from NAMI, in the last year, more than 80 percent of surveyed students in college claimed they felt overwhelmed by all of their responsibilities, and 40 percent even said they had more stress than average in the same time period. This added stress can sometimes increase symptoms for a student genetically predisposed to or dealing with a mental illness.
In learning to be independent and accountable while away at school, many students face inevitable challenges, such as:
- Culture Shock: Leaving the stable comforts of home where your parents always make sure you are safe and taken care of and going to a place by yourself, where all of those responsibilities are now yours, requires an adjustment and can create anxious and uneasy situations.
- Financial Pressures: Many students have to work their way through college nowadays, and costs for books, tuition, and room and board are higher than in the past, increasing stress about paying bills and eating well.
- Academic Pressures: Students who received straight A’s in high school may feel pressure to continue that level of academic success, but it can be much more difficult to do so in college. Once individuals feel they aren’t meeting expectations or start making comparisons to others in their classes, they can get down on themselves and may struggle with emotional stress.
- Increased Access to Substances: Newly acquired freedom may cause some to experiment with drugs or alcohol, and social pressure from peers, plus greater availability, may lead to an eventual substance abuse problem.
- College Anonymity: Attending college with thousands, or sometimes tens of thousands, can make someone new to the campus feel extremely alone. If the student goes to a school that is too far to commute to, he or she loses a support system, which can be scary and stressful – especially in unfamiliar situations.
Mental Illnesses That May Be Exacerbated by College Stress
The stressful situations listed above may be playing a role in escalating the symptoms of pressing mental illnesses in countless students across the country. If you are dealing with a condition or have a child in college who might be genetically prone to mental instability, look for warning signs that the issue may be worsening. As noted by a LearnPsychology.org guide, an increase in the following symptoms may indicate a student’s pre-existing condition is intensifying:
- Anxiety:Worrying, fearing the worst, feeling on edge, nervousness, sweating, inability to sleep, shortness of breath, jittering, quickening heart rate, and fatigue – often for no obvious reason.
- Depression: Lasting and consistent feelings of helplessness, lower energy, self-loathing, sleep troubles, apathy, reckless behavior, and irritability.
- Addiction: Frequent injuries with no explanation of how they happened, withdrawal symptoms in between uses, inability to concentrate, poor hygiene and physical appearance, shaking, strange behavioral changes, depression, and spending money on substances instead of necessities.
- Self-Harm: Inexplicable injuries, isolation, covering the body with clothing all the time, disappearing for extended periods of time, and frequent irritability.
- Bipolar Disorder: Major mood changes (from overly euphoric to unimaginably sad), risky behavior, fatigue, extreme agitation, changes in appetite, and problems focusing.
Treatment Options for College Students Suffering from a Mental Illness
If you have noticed an increase in any of these signs and the symptoms have started to interfere with normal function, it might be time to pursue treatment. One option is to take advantage of university counseling, which is usually available on or near campus. Unfortunately, these options are often crowded and understaffed, with limited access to resources that can help everyone who seeks assistance. Additionally, there may be a waiting period before getting help. In these situations, it might be worthwhile to look at other options in the community.
Independent behavioral healthcare hospitals, such as Vista del Mar, are specifically designed to care for those dealing with mental illness. They have the resources to treat college students, no matter what condition is present, and proven programs and services that address the whole person – not just the symptoms. When you seek treatment at Vista del Mar, you have access to all of the following comprehensive care options and services:
- Adult Inpatient Program
- Group and Family Therapy
- Medication Management
- Partial Hospitalization
We also give every patient a free mental health assessment upon admission. During this discussion, a licensed professional will evaluate the condition, get a medical history, and help you determine the right program to meet your unique needs. Seeking treatment from a qualified, accredited, and structured behavioral healthcare hospital can make a big difference in the life of a college student affected by mental illness and assist those struggling with their new stressful scenario.
People say your college years are some of the best of your life, but if you have a mental illness, they may be some of the most challenging. With statistics and studies showing a connection between college stressors and accelerated mental conditions for some students, it’s important to watch out for an increase in symptoms of pre-existing ailments, particularly anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Should you have any concern about yourself or child, contact a mental health professional and find out your psychiatric options.
At Vista del Mar Behavioral Healthcare Hospital, we offer a variety of treatment programs to meet your needs, whether looking for an inpatient care solution or partial hospitalization program while enrolled in school. Call us at 805-653-6434 with questions and to get your free assessment.